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The Formational Pastor

Multiple Mindedness and Ministerial Resilience

Here’s an article from “Faith and Leadership” over at Duke University Divinity School on “Multiple Mindedness and Ministerial Resilience”

http://www.faithandleadership.com/content/cynthia-lindner-multiple-mindedness-and-ministerial-resilience?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=headline&utm_campaign=NI_program.

To sing or not to sing?

I’ve been thinking about music in the liturgy recently.

We have now at our church a new organ, and a very nice person who can play that organ very well.  Up to this point we haven’t had someone who could play the organ very well, so we’ve used CDs of hymns to accompany our singing (they’re well-produced by professional organists, so there’s no issue of quality there).  However, we’ve spoken most of the liturgy and whatever “incidental” music we’ve had has come from a variety of sources.

Now that we have this very nice person who can play that organ very well, I’m wondering about some of that “other” music.  I don’t have answers to these questions, I’m just posing them.  If you have thoughts or answers, I’d love to hear them:

Why is there music while the offering is being collected?  Organists call this an “offertory.”

  • Is it because this is the “special offering” of the organist?  If so, why does the organist get offering envelopes?  If so, why don’t we encourage everybody to bring “special offerings” every Sunday?
  • Is it because we want some sound to cover up the clink of the coins hitting the plates?  Then why is there “offertory” in churches that take up the collection into cloth bags?
  • Is the Offertory just “incidental music”?  If so, why do we need it?
  • Or is there a formative, transformative, worship / adoration purpose for the Offertory?  If so, then probably any old Bach prelude or Maranatha! song won’t do.  If so, then we would do well to carefully choose music that would speak to the relationship of the people to the God who loves them as a prodigally generous Father loves His children.

Why is there music during the distribution of Holy Communion?

  • Is it to give them something to do instead of chatting while they’re waiting for their turn to come to the altar?
  • Our sanctuary is small.  My voice can easily be heard without amplification from the chancel all the way to the narthex.  As I’m giving people Communion, and pronouncing the blessing/dismissal on each group of communicants, everyone in the room can clearly hear it.  If our sanctuary were so large that you couldn’t easily hear that pronouncement, would you need a Communion song so people wouldn’t talk amongst themselves?
  • Do these two questions assume that, if left to themselves, Christians gathered in worship for Holy Communion would be unable to focus on Communion and the desirability of encouraging one another in worship and in their faith?
  • In our small sanctuary, in some services there are lots of people and in some there are not so many.  Sometimes we can sing an entire hymn during Communion, and sometimes we just can’t.  So should this be a consideration – that there are enough people present to make it worthwhile?
  • In our small sanctuary, is it important that the people who are waiting for Communion have something to distract them, or is it important that they have something to focus their worship, or is it important that they be able to hear again and again “This true Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ strengthen and uphold you in the true faith to life everlasting.  Depart in Peace” whether they are at the altar or not?
  • Is there music during Communion because that’s the tradition, because the organist is expected to play it for some reason?

Why is there music at all, other than to sing hymns with?

  • In a world filled with increasing and often unceasing noise, what would be wrong with the community of God’s people together following His urging to “be still, and know that I am God”?

See?  I don’t know the answers to these questions.  I don’t know that there really are any answers.  I’m just muddling along here, trying to help our folks know the God who loves us a little better.

What do you think?

A Father’s Love

After Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the Mount of Transfiguration,

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”  Mark 9:14-17

I know – the same argument as today, probably.  Did the boy really  have a demon, or did he have epilepsy?  First of all, come on!  Julius Caesar had epilepsy, or something like it, and the Romans all knew it was a disease and not a demon almost a century before this account.  So, let’s take Mark’s word for it that it was a demon (and the Holy Spirit as a corroborating witness, remember).

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s focus on that father.  That poor guy and his son!  Who know how old the son was at this point, but he had had the demon since he was little.  The family had probably gone out of their minds trying to find ways to help him.  If they had lived in our day, they would have gone to one specialist after another, both medical and psychological.  They would have tried a variety of drugs, treatments, and behavioral therapies, all to no avail.  I suspect that this family had been drained of their resources over the years, financially, emotionally, spiritually – and that the boy himself had (as said of another patient of Jesus) “suffered much at the hands of many physicians.”

Now maybe this father comes to Jesus and the disciples in desperation.  This will be their last chance.  He’s run out of options, and has nowhere else to turn.  Trembling with fear and his last ounce of hope, he comes to where he’s heard Jesus is – only to find that He’s out of the office for the day!  He’s up on the mountain with some of the disciples!  The best he can do for his son is hope that the disciples can do something for him – but they can’t.

Can you imagine this father’s heart at the end of that day?  Can you imagine the tears falling from his eyes as he holds his precious son to keep him from being hurt as he falls in another convulsion?  Can you imagine his sorrow and anguish that even this last hope has been empty and futile?  Can you imagine his anger and resentment at the crowd that stands around, impassively and objectively arguing about whether or not the boy has a demon after all, totally ignorant of the toll this has taken on his whole family’s life?

And then, just as he’s about to pick up his son and take him home, along comes Jesus and Peter and James and John, fresh from the top of the mountain.  Jesus asks, What’s going on?  The father tells him.  Jesus sighs, and commands the demon to come out.  The demon thrashes the boy around some, but comes out as commanded.  Everybody can see that the demon has come out and the boy is well.  The father can take him home!

Can you imagine the father’s heart now breaking not for sorrow, but for joy?  Can you imagine the father’s heart not breaking for emptiness, but exploding because it is full of thanksgiving and hope and praise?  Can you imagine the father leaping and skipping and running home, hand in hand with this healthy son, healthy for the first time in years?  Maybe planning to surprise Mother at the door – maybe planning a big party for all the neighbors later – maybe planning already the outings they’ll go on, the sports they’ll play, the adventures they’ll have together, the fun and the love as father and son from now on.

But – what about the “unbelieving generation” comment of Jesus in verse 19?  What’s that all about?  I suppose it could be a sigh of disgust, maybe, that some people take so long to come to Jesus.  Like they see Him like their last resort rather than their first recourse.

Of course, we pastors know what that’s like, don’t we?  People come to us and say things like, “Pastor, the wife and I have decided to get a divorce.  We’ve signed the papers, and we thought you should know.”  We nod, and inwardly groan and wonder why they didn’t come to us earlier in the process?

But truth be told, I do the same thing with Jesus.  He’s often farther down on my “To Call” list than He ought to be, and often when I do reach out to Him it’s only after I’ve reached out to several others.

And yet that’s not where I’m really headed with this post.  Go back for a moment to the paragraph in italics above.  Whether they call us “Father” or not, we pastors often have the kind of relationship with the people Jesus gives to us that causes our hearts to ache for them.  Whether they are our blood children or adopted children or our spiritual children, haven’t there been times when their lives and their situations pierce your own heart like a sword?  Times when you’ve felt like the Prodigal Father trembling with anticipation that today might be the day the lost son is finally found?  Times when perhaps, as someone’s pastor, you’ve thought “if I could be in that hospital bed / Alzheimer’s unit / jail cell instead of you”?

This story touches me at that place in my heart, and I want nothing more than to bring all these children to Jesus for Him to cast out whatever is possessing them so that we can run and play and celebrate His love forever – and Jesus and me with them.

Church and Ministry 2

See the previous post for an explanation of what prompted these reflections.

2.  Describe your understanding of the Office of the Public Ministry

If the church is the Bride of Christ, and Christ is the Bridegroom, those who stand in the Office of the Public Ministry fill the role of the Friend of the Bridegroom.  They take care of the Bride, keeping her safe and protecting her so that she is ready for the wedding.  They take care of the arrangements, the food and drink that the guests will have.  They take care of the guests, providing them with the robes of forgiveness and righteousness that they will need to celebrate this wedding properly and enjoyably.  They make sure everyone has a place and feels welcome in the celebration.

And they look forward with great anticipation to the arrival of the Bridegroom.  He has been away a long time and has entrusted all the arrangements to His Friend.  The Friend is glad of His trust, and wants everything to be good and right.  He is not afraid of losing the approval of the Bridegroom or of disappointing Him; but he is such a Friend to the Bridegroom that He cannot imagine how anyone would not want to join in the celebration.

5.   Describe your pastoral approach and practice

In addition to the basic Friend of the Bridegroom image above, my approach and practice center on the idea that the word “Pastor” means “shepherd.” It does not mean any of the following: chairman, CEO, leader, vision-caster, strategic planner, fixer, analyst, or administrator.  Each of these words carry with it a certain array of tasks to be done and skills to be exercised, but even taken all together they do not entirely comprise the calling that is named “pastor.”  Yet in the United States in this day and age many in the church tend to look outside the church for models of how to operate.  We find exciting, “successful,” and “growing” techniques and images, and turn to them because they give us a sense of accomplishment.  Yet it seems like a shepherd rarely “accomplishes” anything – he just cares for the sheep over a long period of time, without any measure of “success” or “achievement.”  But he probably doesn’t care about those kinds of things, because he just loves the sheep that are entrusted to his care.

My “approach and practice” has been growing in recent years to be much more like a “shepherd.” In the end, I’d be disappointed if people summarized my “pastoral approach and practice” by saying things like “he was a successful pastor” or ‘he knew how to run a church.”  In the end, I’d much rather that people summarized that “approach and practice” by saying things like “we caught glimpses of Jesus in him.”

SermonSeeds: The Father Voice in blessing

A Formational Pastor Post

Ephesians 3:14-21 – RCL New Testament reading for July 29, 2012 (Proper 12 / 9th Sunday after Pentecost

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

The people of God over whom we pastor come to us Sunday after Sunday (and sometimes in between) having made it through another week – sometimes just barely.  Some make it by the skin of their teeth.  Some have been beaten up by life, and come licking their wounds.  Some of the wounds are decades old, and they’re still limping from the effects.  We acknowledge their wounds, and sometimes look for the cause so they can be treated appropriately.  But the people of God don’t need us to beat them more with shame or blame or accusations or “shoulda – woulda – couldas” – they’ve already had enough wounding from the rest of the world.  What they need from us is medicine, healing, and caring.  The kind of caring that only Jesus gives.

They come to us again and again not needing to hear our thoughts on the latest movies or TV shows or politics or issues.  They come to us again and again needing to hear words like Saint Paul writes here:  Regardless of what is happening in the rest of the world and the rest of your life, I love you.  I’m praying for you.  I know that God cares for you.  I know that He has riches He is giving you now, that you can’t even see.  If you find it hard to hear the voice of the Father through the noise of the world, listen to it here in these words.  This is the Father’s voice of prodigal love.  Come, soak in it – bask in it – and receive His healing.

So I’m thinking about not preaching this text this Sunday.  This text doesn’t call for exegesis.  Instead, it’s calling “use me to bless the people of God!”  I think I will.

SermonSeeds: Belonging

A post from The Formational Pastor

Ephesians 2:11-12 / RCL Proper 11, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 22 2012

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men) — 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Let’s talk about the Core Longing of Belonging today, shall we?  Paul reminds the Ephesians (and us) that there was a time when we did not belong to the people of God – and such “not belonging” meant we were without hope, too.  But in Jesus Christ God has eliminated every barrier to our belonging to Him.  He has totally filled that Core Longing through His Son.

What words do you want to use to describe what God has done to meet that longing?  “No longer two, but one” means that you who belong to God cannot be counted separately anymore.  “One body” means that you are united to all the others who belong to Him, you draw life from each other and give life to each other through mutual encouragement and forgiveness in Jesus’ Name.  “He preached peace” not only means that He announced peace, but since His Word has creative power He also created peace between you and all believers, as He did between you and God.  “You are fellow citizens with God’s people” with all the rights and privileges we accord to citizens – and you know how the political debate rages over immigration these days.  No such debate over your status!  “You are members of God’s household.”  Not just a next-door-neighbor citizen, but a member of God’s family, with a seat at His dinner table and a place always in His house and home.  “Being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit,” so that if those who are not citizens of God’s Kingdom and outside His family, who are still far away from Him and separated from Him should be looking for directions to Him, for guidance to Jerusalem, for the presence of the Temple where God truly dwells among His people, they need look no farther than to you and the believers around you.

Core Longings / SermonSeeds for July 15, 2012

A post from The Formational Pastor

Revised Common Lectionary:  Amos 7:7-15, Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

 

Seed A:  Though John’s murder was truly ghastly, this might be an opportunity to spend a little time looking at Herod’s actions not only self-aggrandizing but also self-protective.  It’s easy to see the bravado with which he made the promise to Herodias’ daughter, wanting to impress all his banquet guests with his magnificent generosity.  It’s also possible to see that his follow-through was face-saving – he didn’t want those same guests to think he was a piker, now did he?  So to protect both his reputation and himself he gave the order to have John beheaded.

Perhaps this could be an opportunity to examine our own hearts and lives to see what kinds of self-protective, face-saving actions we’ve taken recently.  No, they don’t have to have the same ghastly consequences as Herod’s, but yes, they have the same root – some deep core longing that remains unsatisfied, that somehow we think we have to take care of ourselves.  What’s the better solution?  See the next paragraph.

Seed B:  Look at Saint Paul’s list in Ephesians of all the things that the Lord has done for His people – make that, for you.  Go ahead, put your name in there wherever he writes “us” – He chose you, He predestined you, He adopted you, and on and on.  Now connect each one of these things with one or more of the Core Longings we’ve learned – Belonging, Purpose, Love, Understanding, Safety / Security, Significance.  See how each God has richly met your core longings already, filling them to the brim with Himself?  Where else should we go to have them met but in Him?

Episodic Encounters / SermonSeeds for July 8, 2012

A post from The Formational Pastor

Revised Common Lectionary:  Ezekiel 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Mark 6:1-13

How would Ezekiel have the courage to carry on his ministry knowing that the Israelites would probably not listen to him?  Or even knowing that they had been habitually rebellious against the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt into the Promised Land?

How could Paul have the courage to carry on his ministry knowing that the same Lord who had called him into that ministry now refused to remove his painful “thorn in the flesh”?  Instead, after praying earnestly three times, the Lord spoke to him and said “My grace is sufficient for you.”

How could the disciples have the courage to go out and preach that people should repent, cast out many demons and anoint many sick people and heal them after the reception they saw Jesus receive in Nazareth?

In each of these readings, it was not because somebody else came to them with a word of encouragement.  Not because somebody read to them a relevant Scripture (e.g., “Be strong and courageous”).  Not because somebody scolded them out of their fear into action with a “suck it up, guys.”

Look at each of these incidents as Episodic Encounters with the Lord.  See how these encounters encouraged Ezekiel, Paul, and the disciples, knowing that they had heard and met the Lord Himself.  Consider their ministries after these Encounters – Ezekiel’s, to the rebellious Israelites with awesome visions and prophecies; Paul’s, to many other churches and believers in his missionary travels; the disciples, as they entered a powerful season of healing and demon-casting.

Encouragement, Scripture readings, kicks into action may have their places – but if we can be with the Holy Spirit as He guides people into Episodic Encounters with Him or the Father or Jesus, we’ll really see together how His Kingdom is coming!

Celebrating the Unborn

From The Formational Pastor

 

One of the things that the church can do to provide a healing, formational atmosphere for the people it serves is to model healthy relationships and behaviors.  We know that the ways in which we celebrate and welcome newcomers into the family of God in our particular place can create positive memories for them.  If we make habits out of these celebrations they may become a part of the culture of the congregation, and people will assume “this is a church that celebrates people.”

Many churches celebrate the addition of infant members into their midst through a rite like a Dedication, or the Sacrament of Baptism.  The words and form of these rites not only welcome these children into the local congregation, but since the rites also have some root in history we are saying that the children are being welcomed into the church through the ages as well.  But there is more that we might do, I think.

At our congregation, when it comes to distributing the Lord’s Supper we have a few people come up to the front of the church at a time, where they kneel at a rail.  One of the elders goes along the rail and gives out the bread, and I follow to give out the wine.  We encourage children to come along with their parents.  Although we don’t give communion to small children, I do pause at each one, place my hand on their head, and bless them because of their Baptism and the death and resurrection of Jesus, praying that “He will fill them with all joy and hope in believing in Him” or something similar.  Most of the children seem genuinely happy to receive this blessing – even the infants are enthralled.

But there is one more step I use to celebrate the presence of these children of God in our midst.  If one of the persons at the communion rail is a pregnant woman, after I give her the Blood of Jesus I pause, place my hand gently on her head, and pray a prayer of blessing for the child that she is carrying.  These unborn ones are part of God’s family in our place, too, and deserve the prayers and anticipation of the entire body just as they do from their immediate family.  And when we begin to celebrate them before they are born, we know that they are already a beloved part of our family when we finally do see them.

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